The steady roar of the wind changed its pitch just
enough to be audible as Brian pulled smoothly on the
right trim grip and slid his hip harness a few
centimeters to the left of center. He moved slowly
through the turn, trying at all times to minimize his
slip. Altitude was time, and he had just about run out
After more than seventy-four hours
Brian Ternak was tired, but he wouldn't be able to sleep
with the drugs in his bloodstream even if he set the
glider down. He was hungry, but his stomach rebelled
every time he tried to drink the concentrate. He was
happy, but you couldn't tell it.
And he had every reason to be
happy. He had already broken the endurance record for
Confederation Cup gliding on Farnholme III, which was
set at sixty-five hours, thirty-six minutes, and
fourteen point seven five seconds more than six years
ago by Jerome Barnaby. Before long now, he would also
set a new distance record, but he was still about five
hundred kilometers from the end. He didn't come all this
way with all this effort just to extend the endurance
and distance records. He came to Farnholme III to be the
first to make it all the way down the continental chain,
and he didn't come alone.
Farnholme III was one of the many
Earth-type planets that had been discovered more than
sixty years ago out on the galactic rim. It was
geologically in its early years, and life so far had
restricted itself to Farnholme III's oceans, which meant
it was distributed over eighty percent of the globe.
While Farnholme III was pimpled
with millions of small, mostly volcanic islands, it had
only one continental-size landmass. It was shaped like a
long ellipse running north and south with its western
side being flattened to a trace of an arc. The first
exploration team had named it Turtle, because from orbit
it looked like a giant turtle floating on the
essentially ocean world. A mountain range ran down the
western side of the continent for most of its 4,000
kilometers, with peaks that sometimes rose as high as
7,500 meters right out of the sea. It was named
Razorback in obvious deference to the land it sat upon.
To the east, the continent sloped gradually up from sea
level to over 2,000 meters at mid-continent and to the
eastern base of the mountains at 3,500 meters.
The speakers in Brian's helmet
startled him. The drugs had him strung out tighter than
the ruby filament shrouds holding Windhover together.
The clarity of the voice in his ears made it seem like
Jack Weatherby was riding right alongside him. "Brian,
we have a weathersat update on the region between us."
"Yeah, Jack. What've you got?"
"Looks like the afternoon storm is
definitely building faster and at greater altitude than
normal. The storm appears to be following cyclonic
formation patterns. The weathersat AI's preliminary
projection indicates it will be bad and will be ashore
before you get here. The storms on this waterball have
been unpredictable the whole time we've been here. The
AI says a 95 percent probability projection will be
available in about an hour. How's everything else?"
Brian smiled to himself but let it
leak out in the tone of his voice. "Just like last time.
I'm too low and I'm too slow, but I'm still gonna go.
More to the point, what's Lindstrom doing?"
"He's still steady about thirty
klicks behind you, with maybe a hundred meters more of
altitude. Nothing significant. He hasn't made up a
kilometer in the last twenty-four hours. I think he's
Brian smiled again. If Bjorn
Lindstrom isn't tired, he isn't human, which would be
all right, since it would eliminate him from the record
book. Of course, Brian knew only too well that Lindstrom
was human, maybe a little more than human. At least it
seemed that way every time they were head-to-head on the
gliding circuit. However, the trick was not to think
about the competition to the point where you lost your
concentration on the flying, which was easy to set up as
a Golden Rule, but a bitch to pull off if you were a
real competitor. And if you weren't that big a
competitor, the Rule wouldn't apply to you. Paradox.
He could feel the weight of his
body increasing as he moved into a welcome updraft.
Slowly, he released the pressure on the right trim grip
and squeezed gently on the left grip to level the
glider, his hips moving automatically back to center.
This was the skill of endurance gliding. Putting your
senses on automatic and feeling your way into the
thermals, sensing the slightest change in the G-forces
that signaled the thermal's edge, and making the quick
but smooth control changes that would extract the most
altitude gain before the thermal died.
Confederation Cup glider pilots
were as close as man could get to being birds. Lying
face down, arms outstretched, Brian was really
experiencing the flying sensations of childhood dreams.
The glider's design as well as the pilot's position
reinforced these sensations. The entire tensegrity
structure was designed to flex its control and lift
surfaces for maneuvering, the titanium tubing and ruby
wire taking compression and tension stresses like bones
and sinews, polyceram film flexing and stretching like
skin and feathers.
The offshore breeze seemed to be
falling off, probably an effect of the approaching
storm. At his present low altitude and if he were trying
to go east of the storm, he would have to gauge an
inland course through the mountain passes where there
was little margin for error. He had to hold any
commitment to a high desert route as long as possible
with Lindstrom having a hundred-meter altitude
advantage. Lindstrom would convert that altitude
advantage to time and distance, if given a chance. Brian
knew it, Lindstrom knew it, and Jack knew it too.
However, Jack, being the best ground crew chief
available anywhere, would never say it while Brian was
in the air.
There he went again on Lindstrom.
Concentrate. Brian consciously brought his mind back to
the neutral state that made him part of the control
system. He was flying.
"Brian, we have that 95 percent
projection from the weathersat AI."
"Okay, Jack. Let's hear the good
"It's coming in fast Brian, moving
just about due east at thirty-five knots; definitely
cyclonic with winds near the center just over eighty KPH.
She's about a hundred and thirty klicks in diameter and
growing slowly. Our plot shows you're going to hit her
as head on as if you had planned it that way. The good
weather you've got now should begin to disintegrate in
about twenty minutes. Looks like you should put her
down, Brian. There's a good pass to the high desert
about twenty klicks ahead. We can probably make it there
before you do."
"Slow down, Jack. I'm not ready to
scrub yet. Seems to me I've still got a few options. I
could fly through it, maybe even fly over the worst of
it. I could run for the high desert and catch enough
thermals to fly down the east side of the chain. As a
last resort, I could turn around and head north again
until the storm has passed or started its usual track
south and then follow it."
"None of those options sound
reasonable to me, Brian. It's questionable you could
find enough thermals over the desert to even stay aloft
this time of day, and if you could, you'd spend so much
time finding them you wouldn't make any headway. You
can't fly over it because it's already above your
effective ceiling. And if you do circles until the storm
bangs into the Razorback and spins south, the storm's
southern motion will be too slow for you to make the end
in time. You're already strung out, Brian. You can't
spare a day for this storm to beat itself out against
the mountains. That only leaves flying through it, and
that's dumb because it's too big and too strong. You've
already got both records, and you'll add to 'em getting
over to the pickup point. It's been a great run, Brian.
Put her down."
"Jack, I know we went to great
pains not to let Lindstrom's decision to make this into
a head-to-head competition change any of our game plan,
but we can't just ignore him. He's real, and he's on my
ass. Any records I set could last less than an hour, and
besides, those records aren't why we came here. What's
Lindstrom going to do, Jack? That's what I need to
"Well, you know I trained Surtees
as a ground hog, and I'd say he's delivering the same
message to Lindstrom that I'm giving to you. Put it
down." Of course he wouldn't say it to Brian, but he
would also bet that Surtees was having at least as much
trouble with Lindstrom.
"How long have I got before I'm
"Riding the storm edge, I'd guess
you're about 15 to 20 minutes from the pass. Once you're
into the storm, it won't be possible to change your mind
and head for the pass, since the counter-clockwise storm
motion will give you nothing but headwinds. So I'd say
you have about thirty minutes max to commit."
"Okay, Jack. I'll talk to you
again sometime in the next thirty minutes."
Brian Ternak had spent a good part
of the last two years preparing for this attempt on
Farnholme III. Nobody had ever done it. Sure, it was
heady to have broken the endurance and distance records,
but holding a record had a way of being transitory.
Brian had displaced quite a few of the past's great
gliders from the record book, and he had already been
displaced seven times himself, by Lindstrom mostly. In
the world of statistical records, your name was in the
book only as long as your record was the "best", but in
conquering a physical barrier it was "first" that always
remained in the book. Second and third were never
More than having his name in the
record book, Brian wanted to do what he had set out to
do, nothing less. He had planned the flight from start
to finish in infinite detail, and up to now, he was
right on plan. He had, of course, planned on storms. No
one went to Farnholme III without planning on storms. He
had run thirty-seven storm contingency alternatives in
the flight plan program, and the lowest probability of
success had been ninety-six percent. Of course the
program assumed he would make all the necessary real
time decisions on Farnholme III correctly, ninety
percent of the time. It also assumed that none of the
remaining ten percent would be catastrophically wrong.
And after all the planning, had
come Lindstrom. Lindstrom was the rising Confederation
Cup star. Ternak was still the best, but already
declining in the light of Lindstrom's rising sun.
Lindstrom, brawny and brash. Ternak, wiry and wily. Or
so the sports media kept telling everyone.
Lindstrom just couldn't leave it
alone. All of the Confederation Cup gliders knew about
Ternak's assault on the Razorback. After all, he had
spent years in project planning, designing and building
Windhover, training himself and the ground hogs, and
setting up the financing and logistics. It was always a
lot tougher to find financing for the one-man assaults,
since the federation did not allow real time media
coverage for anything other than sanctioned
competitions. They reasoned it was too much to ask of
the pilot. The knowledge that he was being watched by
millions of people could break his concentration or make
him push himself too far. Besides, lots of the one-man
record attempts ended in no record at all, which made
them a poor investment.
Lindstrom, on the other hand, was
heir to one of earth's greatest energy cartel fortunes.
So big even he couldn't spend it all. With money no
object, Lindstrom started his plans only six months ago.
He bought one of the junior engineers in the firm Brian
had engaged to produce Windhover's plans, hired a staff
five times the size of Brian's, and finished all of his
preparations before Brian. He even had time to rest for
a week on the sunny shores of Haldane on the way to
Farnholme III. Of course, all that meant was that he was
wealthier than Ternak. No Federation Cup glider pilot
was a working man; he would never be able to break into
the sport. It was definitely for the rich and the super
Brian was roused from his reverie
or fatigue fugue, whichever it was, by the bumpiness of
the air. The storm clouds were closing in fast. The
turbulence seemed to be concentrating its forces in
Brian's insides, which had been getting more and more
unsettled in the last hour, even without the
Brian figured his body was right
on its drugged, ragged edge. He shifted his weight
awkwardly in an effort to relieve the gas pains roiling
through his guts without changing the glider's trim. The
hip harness chaffed his skin through the thermosuit as
he lifted his pelvis off the padded slide. If the
shifting had any effect on the glider's trim, it was
lost in the turbulence of the looming storm.
He took a few mouthfuls of the
sweet, drug-laced liquid being continually proffered by
the flex-tube two centimeters from his mouth. His
stomach clenched and almost gave it back. Brian
swallowed as fast as he could. The last thing he needed
was to coat the inside of his helmet with whatever a
stomach contains after three days of liquid diet. He
swallowed, choked, and coughed, but he held it down.
"Brian, are you okay? We're
getting a lot of noise out of the throat mike."
"Just having a little trouble
keeping lunch where it belongs. I've got it under
control. Any more on the weather and Lindstrom?"
"Yeah, I was just getting ready to
raise you. It doesn't sound good. She's still
intensifying, and the satellite AI is predicting she'll
spawn a rim full of twisters before she hits the
mountains. Keep your eyes open for funnels that are
forming and we'll keep you updated through the
"He's still there Brian. Same
relative position. Forget him. Look for the funnels."
"I will for about another five
minutes. After that, I guess I'll be mostly on the
instruments and the computer generated displays. I want
to know the instant Lindstrom deviates from his
"You've only got ten minutes to
turn for the canyon. The map is up on the display if you
fade it in. Bring her home, Brian. To Hell with
"I'll take all of my ten minutes,
Damn it! How many times had he
been here before? It was always the same, and he knew
all the questions. He knew all the psychological
pitfalls, and it never made the answers any easier. Was
he about to cross the line from acceptable risk to
foolhardy? He could easily build a chain of logic that
would convince a rational man that the only prudent
thing to do was to stop now, before becoming foolhardy.
He had gone through that exercise
many times before, on many different planets, with the
same result. After convincing himself he should stop, he
would then ask himself whether or not the logic was
really rational or was it rationalization? Was it his
conscious mind trying to submerge his fears, or had he
made an intellectual leap? He could never decide.
Was fear going to stop him just
short of an attainable goal? Was ego going to drive him
to attempt the impossible? It had come down to this
self-doubt many times now, and Brian knew this was the
real fuel of his drive for gliding, but in the end, all
this seeming self-awareness amounted to nothing. All the
tough decisions he had made gliding on dozens of
Federation planets had been made the same way. Whether
he had a few seconds or a few hours to consider the
situation, the decision always came as a surprise, an
electrical signal to which he responded like a
servomotor with no thought of the source.
It was always tough making
go/no-go decisions, and this time he had Lindstrom
breathing down his neck, not just here on Farnholme III,
but on the circuit throughout the Sector. One, two:
Ternak and Lindstrom. And lately, too many Lindstrom and
Ternaks to suit Brian. God, there must be someway to
maintain the edge that being this far ahead, this far
down the Razorback should give him. Instead, it looked
like the storm was going to let Lindstrom catch up.
Could Lindstrom maintain his altitude advantage and
ultimately convert it to distance? Did Lindstrom have
the physical reserves to wait out the storm? He had to
Lindstrom was undoubtedly planning
to slow up and let the storm hit the mountains in front
of him. That's what Brian would do. So, he had to build
on that, make Lindstrom think he was giving up by
heading for the desert at the last minute. Once it
looked to Lindstrom that Ternak had given up, he might
play it safer than he would with Ternak still in the
race and hang back even further from the storm edge,
waiting for the storm to bounce south.
He would make the fake to the
desert at the last second, right in the edge of the
storm, so it would look like a last minute desperation
dash. Once in the storm rim, he would bounce in and out
gaining altitude on the rim thermals while it looked
like he was trying hard, but not too successfully, to
get to the desert. Then with his altitude problem fixed,
he would flip her over a hundred and eighty degrees and
run with the winds in the storm rim, out over the water
and south. All it would take was a successful fake and
The storm clouds were close now.
Their outer edges were being drawn down, curled under,
and sucked up again all along the bottom edge of the
cloud mass visible to Brian in his display. The
bumpiness of a few minutes before had built in intensity
to more of a slamming as the glider cut through
alternating columns of updrafts and downdrafts. His
intestinal turmoil grew proportionately.
Brian continued to roll the
decision around in his mind, really pack it in to the
desert, or go for the fake. His mind seemed caught in a
feedback of glider and digestive track tempo, the whole
loop heterodyning, threatening to overwhelm him in a
spasm of delirium. He forced himself to concentrate on
the holographic display being painted on his retinas by
the two tiny lasers in the front of his helmet. He let
the endless patterns of the boiling clouds pull the
knots loose in his brain. Even the fast moving storm
clouds seemed languid in their haste, and he let his
mind flow with them and through them as Windhover rolled
around them or slashed through them.
He was back in control now, but
still on the horns of his dilemma. The storm seemed to
be on him sooner than he had expected, and he needed to
make his decision now, before he was too far into the
storm's edge. That way he could be more selective in
using the storm drafts, whether it was to coast for a
loss or a stalemate or to run for a win.
Windhover was a great bird, right
on the leading edge of technology. He had participated
as an integral member of the design team right from the
beginning, as he did with all his gliders. Could she
take the pounding of a drive around the storm's edge?
Brian wasn't sure, but he thought she probably could.
Could he take the storm with his body and mind already
strung out to their limits? He would like to think he
could rise to the occasion, but he wasn't sure.
Brian Ternak played to win, not to
loose or even to draw. This time the Good Lady had
raised the pot to the limit, and it made winning
irrationally desirable, maybe even blindingly desirable.
He could call or he could fold. It was too late to
change the stakes.
"You still there, Jack?"
"Still here, Brian. We won't break
and run for the desert until you're out of the storm's
"Where is he now?"
"Relative to you, he's unchanged."
"Feed me a diagram showing our
positions as an overlay on the storm."
"Hold one.coming up now."
The laser display showed a diagram
on top of the infrared storm picture coming from the
weathersat. He could see Lindstrom's position well back
behind the storm. He obviously was allowing enough room
for the squeeze north when the storm slammed into the
Razorback. Brian snapped a voice command to the
display's computer interface, "kill the diagram overlay.
Give me normal vision with a one-third overlay IR.
Flashing alert for rotating motions in the forward
ninety degree quadrant."
His display changed as he was
giving the commands. He now had the normal three
dimensional display showing what he would be seeing if
Windhover had a forward view screen. On top of that, he
had a one-third-brightness overlay of a forward-looking
infrared image that would help him spot the thermals
inside the storm. If there were any circular motions
that could be forming funnels in front of him, the
display background in those areas would flash red.
Windhover moved through the first
tracery of storm clouds like a firefly, its bright
orange outline flashing on and off against the deep gray
body of the storm. The flickering images of clouds drove
their way up Brian's optic nerves adding a new harmonic
to the decision/indecision cycling of his mind.
Hypnotically, almost epileptically triggering, Windhover
and Brian Ternak together blinked in and out of reality
while time seemed to freeze, trapping them both in a
spiraling surreality. Abruptly, finally, there was only
the non-reality of unrelieved gray.
Brian pulled hard on the left trim
grip, bringing the trailing edge and the wing flex into
play while his right foot pulled up against the toe
strap, tightening the ruby wire and flexing the trailing
edge of the inverted V rudder. He struggled to breathe
against the continuing acceleration of the updraft
pulling Windhover toward the top of the storm. At last
the glider began to respond and slide slowly to the
right, her nose coming down and beginning to regain
forward speed. Brian felt for the edge of the updraft
where he could slide in and out when he needed to in his
fight to gain altitude and lift. Losing wind speed meant
losing control, and one moment of lost control in a
storm like this one and he would probably not be able to
As the right wing tip neared the
edge of the updraft, Brian could feel the glider
slipping that way, as if the right wing had punctured a
vacuum that was trying to suck it in. Brian countered
with the right grip and Windhover teetered on the edge
of the draft, rising fast without getting sucked in.
He was in control, not just of the
glider, but of himself as well. The cramps and gas were
gone, and the strange mixture of drug hype and fatigue
sluggishness had lifted from his nervous system. He was
aware of his senses extending through the controls, out
along the ruby wires, through the structure, and into
the surrounding storm. He was again an integral part of
Windhover. He was flying.
"Brian, you're moving too deeply
into the storm. You need to come east about eighty
degrees to stay on the storm rim."
"I'm just trying to skirt the edge
and gain enough altitude to make it safely through the
"Thank God you've come to your
senses. The satellite indicates this is a bad one. We'll
pack up and start moving as soon as you're through the
pass. That ought to put us at touchdown about the same
time as you."
"Has Lindstrom shown any signs
he'll head for the desert yet?"
"No, but he's about halfway
through a big circle. Looks like he's going to delay as
long as he can."
"Come on Jack, you know he's not
just waiting to set down, he's waiting to make a run for
it, if he can push his body far enough."
There was only silence from the
Ten minutes had gone by while the
ground crew watched the satellite relay of the storm's
and Windhover's progress. Right after Brian had entered
the rim, the storm's eastern edge had pushed into the
mountains, and the body of the storm had begun to drift
southward. Windhover had made very slow progress toward
Thirty minutes after Brian had
entered the storm edge, Windhover had only made about
three kilometers toward the east, but had drifted about
five kilometers southward with the storm. Brian had only
one call from the ground crew that alerted him to a
funnel cloud about half a kilometer southeast that was
already flashing on the edge of his display. Jack had
been around long enough to know when to be quiet.
All of Brian was stretched out
into the surrounding clouds. Brian/Windhover felt
"Brian, you've got two swirls
ahead of you about one kilometer away. You'll need to
come east about ten degrees to miss 'em. You'll have to
re-correct to get back on course for the desert pass."
"Changing course now. Where's
"He's still circling."
"Is he moving clockwise or
"Clockwise, why? Forget him,
Brian. Bring it in now. You have more than enough
altitude for the pass."
"Where is he on the circle, Jack."
"At the top Brian, almost due
north. Don't do it Brian."
"Of course I'm going to do it.
Lindstrom was fooled, obviously, but I didn't really
hope to fool you. I just made the right noises on the
com in case Lindstrom was not following the rules and
had a listener and relay station somewhere. I won't have
him in a better position, so here goes."
Nothing like something simple for
being devious—the old sling shot. Even the ocean sailors
use it. Let the spin and drift of the storm work for
you. Tough on the crew sometimes, but effective if you
don't lose the ship.
Brian shifted the control
pressures gently, feeling for a smooth exit off the
draft's edge, which would bring him around further west.
He could feel his right wing moving into a downdraft. He
trimmed for it and continued the turn.
He was heading a little north now,
but mostly he was riding the spin of the storm west,
heading for the coast and the ocean, where the western
edge of the storm still resided. He had a couple more
hours to go before the storm's track and spin combined
to bring him to his goal—the end of the Razorback. It
was the long way around, but riding the storm edge was
fast enough to make up for the extra distance.
Brian had been skirting the
storm's edge for at least a century, and the fatigue was
coming back. He felt himself snap in and out of
wakefulness. The left wing was a feeler for his position
on the edge of the updraft he had been riding for the
last ten minutes, and when his attention drifted, the
wing bit more deeply into the draft, tilting him up on
his side. He had flown out of the friendly updraft and
into the edge of a downdraft. His fatigue-clouded mind
hadn't even seen it coming on the IR display overlay.
Brian squeezed the trim grips and
shifted his toe positions for the rudder. There was not
much response by Windhover, which continued to roll even
more onto her side. He corrected more until the controls
were all hard over.
Up on his side, controls against
the stops, he lost it. Windhover slipped completely into
the downdraft like she had been struck by a hammer. The
retaining web bit into Brian's back as Windhover
accelerated toward the speed of the downdraft. Even over
the scream of the storm, Brian could hear the ruby wires
straining, their keening pitch climbing higher and
higher. He could feel the wings flexing his arms. Worst
of all, the controls were slackening, almost dead under
his hands and feet. He had to have forward speed, get
some air traveling over the control surfaces, and he had
to do it now, before he lost all control and sloughed
into a flat spin.
Brian strained against the
controls, driving his body weight as far forward as he
could. Slowly, ever so slowly, Windhover began to dip
her nose. As the air drove over his wing and rudder
surfaces, the controls began to tighten up. He was
flying again. With the surfeit of adrenaline in his
bloodstream, he seemed to fuse with Windhover. He
relaxed his taut muscles a little and could feel himself
pulling smoothly out of the dive—much too smoothly. He
could feel the wind begin to pick up, folding smoothly
over the sides of his face, fluttering the ends of his
hair flatly against the smooth polyceram sides of his
fuselage. He soared.
In his reverie, he had looked
right through the myriad readouts of the display. In
particular, he had failed to watch the windspeed
indicator. With the speed gained in the dive, Windhover
responded much more quickly than he had anticipated,
leveling out and cutting cleanly and quickly through the
wall of the downdraft, into the shear created by an
The wire fitting weld in the
titanium tube that served as the main compression member
of the right wing was almost perfect. Almost. There was
a small bubble that had somehow escaped the multiple
inspections. When the fitting failed, the ruby tension
wires went suddenly slack. The shock on the connecting
compression tube fittings was too much. They failed
next. The four-centimeter tube in his right wing snapped
all the way through the polyceram—a compound fracture
open to the streaming air. As his right wing flapped
helplessly at right and greater angles, even back
against the cabin bubble, his left wing was driving him
into an accelerating twist. Two revolutions and the
torque was too much for the starboard rudder/fuselage
connector forging. Brian felt its grating failure as if
his ankle had gone from a chuckhole in a sprint.
To Brian, the whole sequence was
almost instantaneous. Windhover seemed to disintegrate
around him in one convulsive shudder, but he didn't feel
panic as he tumbled groundward—he was roaring mad. It
was a stupid sequence of judgment errors, even if they
were brought on by the fatigue. They were little errors
that piggybacked into a catastrophe. Damn it, even at
this point he couldn't say cleanly that he had screwed
up. No single action or inaction on his part could
justify the extreme he was experiencing. He had made a
clever move, and Lindstrom had been fooled. God, it
From below the red haze of anger
surging through his mind was the decision he thought he
had made, or had it made him? Had he made an ego driven,
foolhardy decision, or was he caught on the wrong side
of the odds?
It was ignominious. He had never
had to do it in all his years of Federation Cup gliding.
He had gloated about it over many a drink at glider
competitions, but while he looked danger in the teeth
every time he climbed into the glider, he certainly had
no death wish. He unclenched his right hand from the
dead control grip, pulled his arm down the extension
tube to his chest, thumbed the safety off, twisted the
red knob to the "armed" position, and jammed it with the
palm of his hand.
Brian felt the explosive bolts go
on the sixteen points of structural contact between the
life support capsule and what was left of the glider's
frame. A three second delay and the small drogue chute
jerked him out of his tumbling free fall, steadying the
capsule with his feet down, about thirty-five degrees
from the horizontal. Five more seconds while the debris
that was Windhover fell away from the capsule,
accelerating toward Farnholme III. A second of belly
flutter that signals free fall as the drogue detached
itself, then the deceleration as the parawing both
opened and inflated itself from the high-pressure helium
Brian reached up and out to the
sides of the capsule for the unfamiliar handgrips that
controlled the sprawling parawing. Without manually
spoiling the huge parawing's lift, Brian's rate of
descent would not exceed five meters per second in calm
air—a safety feature in case he were to lose
consciousness on the way down. In fact, had he lost
consciousness during Windhover's disintegration, or for
any other reason, his biosensor would have handled the
entire abort sequence automatically. But the oblivion of
unconsciousness was denied him. He had the long ride
down to contemplate the details of his stupidity.
"Brian, we got the abort signal.
What's happening? Are you all right?"
"Hold it down, Jack. I obviously
lost Windhover, although I'm not sure why. The parawing
is fully deployed, and I've got everything under
control. That is, everything except my stomach and
Lindstrom. This storm is beating me to death, and
visions of a smiling Swede are haunting me already." As
Brian was talking, the buffeting of the capsule had
increased so much that he was being slammed back and
forth on his hip slide from one restraint to the other.
And then he was in an updraft even
stronger than the previous ones. He could feel the
acceleration, unrelenting, five, twenty, thirty seconds.
He could hear the pitch of the wind through the ruby
wire shrouds climbing higher and higher as they strained
to pull the capsule aloft with the parawing. Finally, he
topped out. Snatches of blue sky flickered above and
around him momentarily until he had descended again into
the main body of the storm.
He was flying again! By God, he
was flying! "Jack, what's my position relative to abort?
Which way am I drifting?"
"Hold on Brian, I'm checking. Got
it. You're about half a kilometer south of the abort.
You seem to be moving on the rim of the storm with the
"Still moving out over the ocean,
he's about fifty klicks around the storm's rim from your
"What's the storm itself doing?"
"It's drifting south...about five
KPH and increasing."
"That's what I thought, the normal
storm pattern. Give me a fix every ten minutes, and let
me know the instant you detect anything different in
Lindstrom's course. Otherwise, keep it quiet so I can
concentrate on steering this lumbering beast into the
maximum number of thermals. I'm not through yet!"
Brian pulled and hauled on the
shroud grips until he thought his wrist, elbow, and
shoulder sockets were filled with white hot sand. But he
was still aloft, still finding updrafts along the outer
rim of the storm, and he was almost home. In fact, he
was beginning to get the taste of victory, and it was
especially sweet this time. After all, the Federation
rules were explicit. Distance and time were measured
from the point of takeoff rocket ignition to the point
of touchdown, as long as you used regulation gear in
between, and he had. In fact, there was already clear
precedence for measuring distance from the point of
emergency capsule landing location.
"Okay Brian, you can start
spoiling her down now. You've passed the mark. Even at
that, you'll be seven or eight klicks southeast of us,
so it will take us a while to get to you. The storm will
sweep over you a few minutes after you set down, so
detatch the parawing as soon as you touch—and stay
buttoned up. Lindstrom is only six klicks behind you. I
didn't tell you because it wouldn't have helped, and you
had enough to think about. When he or his crew figured
out what was happening, he dove into the storm like a
wild man. He's a hell of a good pilot Brian."
The capsule came down lightly, but
it bumped and banged for about fifty meters before Brian
could hit the shroud release. He was on his back,
smiling, quiet, still full of adrenaline, but somehow
relaxed. He reached up and opened the hatch, settled
back, smiled again, and blinked patiently against the
rain that was just starting to fall.
What seemed like only a few
minutes later, Lindstrom, down on the deck, with a very
prim wiggle of the wings, flashed overhead. Brian could
hear the glider as it slid to a stop. Well, there went
the time and distance records for Farnholme III, but
Brian had what he wanted most. First is first, and
second doesn't even make the record books.